by Jackson Lesch ’15
About two weeks ago, Denison Museum was visited by traveling scholar: Mary Hirsch. Hirsch has a long history of studying Chinese art. It has been her professional focus for more than two decades. She has worked with numerous Asian art collections, namely the Seattle Art Museum and, most recently, as Guest Curator of the East Asian Library at Princeton University.
While Hirsch is interested in all kinds of Asian art, it was Denison’s collection of Chinese Shadow Puppets that brought her to Granville. The collection was originally found by Daniel Sheets Dye (class of 1907) who brought these pieces to Denison in the late 1960s from his visits to China. Apart from the brief exhibition Between Light & Shadow, Denison’s shadow puppet collection had been relatively untouched for about 40 years, waiting for Hirsch to carefully study them and explain their significance.
Watching Hirsch unwrap and digest each piece was like watching a master artisan; I didn’t understand everything she did or said, but I knew it was important and, more importantly, I knew not to disrupt the process. For a period it felt as if she almost forgot I was there, handling each piece like a child would a maze; starting at the end and working backwards. Unlike a maze, Hirsch was not navigating around walls, she was navigating through history. She would talk to herself occasionally about what each puppet meant, and what their role might have been. I was mesmerized for an hour and a half, appreciating the rare opportunity to watch a master work at her craft.
For more information about Denison Museum’s Chinese Shadow Puppets please visit: https://denisonmuseum.org/2009/01/between-light-shadow-chinese-puppets/